The roots of this annual event run deep.
Last year I attended a fly fishing festival where one of the seminars was entitled “Carp on the Fly.” Just out of curiosity, I decided to check it out.
If curiosity killed the cat, then that cat spent all nine lives this day. There wasn’t an empty seat in the room!
Speaking of cats, at that same event there was a presentation on fly fishing for catfish. That, too, was well-attended.
Guess folks are getting sick and tired of catching those nasty ol’ rainbow trout and redfish, and are looking for greener pastures.
Well, guess what? So are grass carp. They’re always looking for greener pastures. Especially if they’ve eaten all the vegetation in the lake or pond.
My first experience with grass carp came in Florida about 16 years ago when my wife’s brother moved to Tampa.
Thanks to the federal Clean Water Act, Florida requires developers to create stormwater retention ponds. These ponds help to filter pollutants from water before it’s discharged into the delicate estuaries.
Look at a satellite map of Hillsborough County, and you’ll spot hundreds of ponds ranging from a quarter-acre to several acres in size. Most of these are fish-filled, which is reason why my fishing-addicted family was more excited about visiting “Unka Leon” than they were about Disney World!
Hydrilla can quickly overtake a pond in warm climates. To control weeds, most of the ponds in Unka Leon’s subdivision had grass carp, including the pond in his backyard.
That pond was super fly fishing for bass and bull bream. One morning while working a redear spot using a snail fly (their favorite food item), I hooked up what I thought was bottom.
When I realized that “the bottom” was moving, I set the hook hard.
Lord have mercy what happened next! The water blew up, and in seconds the line was peeling off my reel. It fought just like a redfish. After about a 10-minute fight, a big ol’ carp came to the surface.
Unka Leon was anxious to see me catch another, so he suggested we chum some up. He walked back to his garage, pulled out the lawnmower, and started it up. Within minutes, I had hooked up another!
The key to chumming for carp with grass clippings is to make sure the side chute is attached and mow in a direction such that the clippings sprinkle into the water. If the clippings stay on the ground, the carp will have a very difficult time getting to them.
It doesn’t matter what the fly is made of, as long as it’s green and “matches the grass hatch.” Unless of course, you’re chumming with corn. Then yellow works best.
It helps to have a little wind. For two reasons.
First, carp are a lot spookier than you might think. Even though most of the carp I catch are incidental, the ones I do catch are often when I’m making soft casts to the edges of a pond with a popping bug or a wet fly, and keeping a low profile to the ground. Wind — and therefore waves — help to hide the anglers profile in the fish’s horizon.
Second, waves tend to move the chum (grass or corn) into feeding lanes. Then flycasting to carp becomes much like dry fly fishing for mountain trout. Cast into a lane, keep a drag-free drift, and watch as Mr. Big Lips sucks down your fly.
Back to the seminar. The speakers were a pair of Kansas guides, Capts. Paul Sodamann and Craig Phillips. Apparently Kansas has a number of lakes with shallow flats, and the carp have taken to it like redfish in our marsh. They have tailing carp, backing carp, carp in pods — the guides there make the same approaches to each situation in exactly the same manner our Louisiana captains do for reds.
Which explains the origin of their nickname — “Kansas Redfish.”
As for tackle, a light saltwater rod, 6- or 7-weight, works fine. Just make sure the reel has a good drag.
So where to catch carp on fly rod?
The best places are ponds. Here in the Baton Rouge area where I domicile, there are numerous neighborhood ponds, and most have grass carp. In fact, if the pond isn’t full of aquatic weeds, it’s got carp.
Incidently, these fish — when managed properly — are a great asset to a pond. They consume their weight in plant matter daily, so stocking rates should be one to two fish per acre. The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries requires a $50 permit and validation that any stockers are of the triploid (sterile) variety.
I always turn carp loose. Catfish are a different story.
I love eating catfish — almost as much as I love catching them on fly rod.
Cats are plentiful throughout our state. But in certain waters, such as all the oxbow lakes, Lac Des Allemands, Lake Verret, Cypress Bayou and a few others, they seem to be very prolific.
Unlike carp, which are herbivores, catfish are ominvorous. So they’ll eat just about any fly in your box.
But having caught well over a hundred cats on fly rod, I can tell you they definitely prefer segmented beadhead flies such as the jitterbee, tussel bug and cap spider in sizes 8 or 10. The best colors are black and chartreuse/yellow, or black and orange/red. Fish these flies 2 to 3 feet under a strike indicator.
Although you’re likely to catch more bream fishing these flies, the catfish will come along, and when they do, better have your fly line free of obstacles, or they’ll break off in an instant.
My best day ever for cats on fly rod came at Lake St John two years ago. I anchored my boat near the mouth of a ditch, which was draining water. I cast into the outflow, let the fly and indicator drift, and watched the indicator sink down when Mr. Whiskers came around. I ended the day with nine channel cats from 3 to 7 pounds.